I’m not sure what it is about defencemen, but I’ve always been intrigued by them; maybe it’s because it’s the position I imagine myself playing if I even played hockey (watching me skate is like watching Mike Millbury run a franchise). I’ve always tended to focus on them more than other players and have always had hunches about several young defencemen.
Some of these hunches have worked out – Doughty, Byfuglien, Subban, etc. Some, such as Bogosian, Petry, Josi, Orlov, and Gudbranson are yet to come into fruition but have promise, while others yet have blown up in my face – anyone read my Franson article before he was shipped off to Toronto? Yea, don’t bother.
With all that being said, I’m certainly no scout; I’m a casual hockey fan who is in way too many fantasy hockey leagues. As a fantasy hockey fanatic, I tend to emphasize stats, provided they are taken in the proper context, which is part of the reason I decided to do this article when Murray’s fantasy worth was called into question since he posted a mere 31 points in 46 games. Well… as you’ll find out (and as you already know if you saw the original post) there’s more to it than that.
For this article I chose to focus on 2012-eligible defencemen from the WHL. Why the WHL? Simply put, I go to WHL games every once in a while and thus have some firsthand exposure to many of these players. While my emphasis is on statistics, as I mentioned before, I felt I was more qualified to write on players who I’ve had a chance to see in action, so to speak.
Lastly, this article revolves around the idea of adjusted statistics – these are by no means a 100% accurate measure of a player’s performance and are meant for relative comparison only. Also, comparables and upsides are, in my mind, best case scenarios – by that I mean if all goes right, I think that player will hover around the predicted point range during his prime years. A career year could place them above my projections, or they may never even hit my estimate.
Just a brief introduction on what some of the term/abbreviations in this article mean:
GFA – Goals for (Average)
GFA/G – Goals for (Average) per game
GF – Goals for
GF/G – Goals for per game
GP – Games played
G – Goals
A – Assists
Pts – Points
Pts/G – Points per game
Team Differential – Goals for less Goals against of the player’s team
% Scoring – The % of goals the player played a factor in (whether goal, primary or secondary assist)
Adjusted Pts – The player’s point totals adjusted for league scoring, factoring in their % scoring and GP.
Adjusted Pts/G – The player’s point per game rate adjusted for league scoring, factoring in their % scoring.
Team Scoring – Their rank overall and as a defencemen on their respective teams.’’
Editors note: All of the tables are going to be put together due to some technical difficultues.
** The WHL D Scoring chart below shows the team average scoring for WHL teams**
Murray is an excellent skater who excels at nearly every aspect of the game. His offensive game is often criticized due to his “average” totals this year and during his draft year but many fail to realize that the Everett Silvertips are a poor team that has not only had a terrible goal differential the past two seasons, but has also been well below league average in scoring.
Many also say he lacks the flashiness that many offensive players possess but he simply does everything so effortlessly, which in combination with his skating, draws comparisons to former NHL-star Scott Niedermayer. Ryan Murray boasts an impressive World Juniors resume and also saw some action with Canada’s World Championships team this year; he is considered one of, if not the safest pick in this draft.
As you can see from the above chart, adjusting his stats for league averages causes a drastic change in his point totals; for this reason, I think Murray’s offensive game is severely underrated and that he is in fact one of the better fantasy defencemen in this year’s draft class. However, due to the weakness of his team, he also likely contributed to more goals than he would on a deeper team, and therefore his % Scoring is likely somewhat inflated.
NHL Comparison(s): Scott Niedermayer-lite and Jay Bouwmeester. No, I don’t think he’ll have a career anywhere near Niedermayer’s; however, stylistically the two are fairly similar. When adjusting for point totals, Murray’s WHL numbers are fairly similar to Bouwmeester’s (J-Bo put up 0.92 in his pre-draft year and 1.0 in his draft year as compared to Murray’s 0.93 and 0.89) and like Bouwmeester, Murray will likely immediately make the jump to the NHL. Both are tremendous skaters and have a great deal of poise with the puck.
Long-term Upside: #1 D-man, PP QB, and PK presence. 12-33-45.
Explosive is the word most often used to describe Dumba; he can rush the puck, dish out highlight-reel hits, and has a fantastic shot as evidenced by his goal totals (15 in 2010-11, 20 in 2011-12, and 5 in just 7 games at the WJC18’s). He is incredibly entertaining to watch; however, many feel that he makes too many risky plays (such as going for the big hit rather than the safe play), lacks hockey sense, and at 6’ and 166 pounds, does not have adequate size to play his game at an NHL-level.
Looking at the above table, Dumba took a huge step forward in the 2011-12 season. The Rebels were a significantly worse team than they were in 2010-11 (anyone else think they missed the Nuge?) and therefore Dumba’s offensive numbers are very impressive. However, like I mentioned with Murray, his % Scoring is obscenely high for a defenceman and could possibly be attributed to the lack of depth the Rebels had this year.
NHL Comparison(s): Dion Phaneuf and P.K. Subban. Phaneuf is a popular comparable for a number of reasons – a top 10 pick (as Dumba is expected to be) from the Red Deer Rebels (same team as Dumba) who had a big shot and the ability to deliver bone crunching hits. However, where the two differentiate is in size and scoring – Phaneuf was larger at the same age but also did not achieve Dumba-like numbers until his third season in the WHL (post-draft year). Personally, I like the Subban comparison for a number of reasons. Firstly, both measure in at 6’ tall and both needed to bulk up.
Secondly, their numbers are strikingly similar – while Dumba outperformed Subban in his pre-draft year, they both vastly improved their stats going into the following season and both posted near identical point per game and PIM numbers (Dumba had 0.83 and 67 PIM while Subban had 0.82 and 89 PIM).
Long-term Upside: #2 D-man, PP QB. 17-33-50.
Rielly is arguably the best pure puck mover in this year’s draft class, and as such may have the highest upside of any 2012-eligible defenceman; Rielly is also one of the better skating defenceman in this draft class, arguably behind only Murray.
However, there are still question marks about his game, largely due to the very limited sample of 18 games in his draft year as he missed the majority of the season with a knee injury.
Looking above, Reilly had the highest Pts/G of any draft-eligible defenceman; however, an 18 game sample is too small to make any certain judgments. Like both Dumba and Murray, his % Scoring is very high; however, unlike Dumba and Murray, he plays for a slightly above average team. As a result of this, scoring is like spread around more and thus the number seems more realistic to me; however, again, it is based on a mere 18 game sample.
NHL Comparison(s): Kris Letang and Erik Karlsson. What do these players have in common with Rielly? All of them are great skaters who can use their speed to make plays while also having the ability to make clean, crisp passes. Furthermore, none of these players maintain a booming shot but all have a deceptively good shot.
Long-term Upside: #3 D-man, PP QB. 10-45-55.
Not only does Griffin Reinhart have an awesome name, he’s also huge, standing at 6’4 and 202 pounds. While I believe Reinhart needs to work on his game in the minors, with his size it wouldn’t surprise me to see him play a few games in the NHL next year. Reinhart is a solid two-way defenceman who is effective in all zones; however, he has been largely criticized for his lack of physicality, which given his frame is somewhat surprising.
Looking at the above table, the first thing that stands out to me is that his scoring did not increase much despite the huge gains made by the Oil Kings in the 2011-12 season; this in itself makes me question his offensive upside. However, he has among the best point per game numbers of any 2012-eligible defenceman during the 2010-11 season. Secondly, his adjusted points per game and % scoring are fairly consistent throughout both seasons, which is both a good and a bad thing in my mind. The good is that it makes him a fairly safe pick; the bad is that it again makes me question how much his offensive game can grow.
NHL Comparison(s): Tyler Myers and Ryan Suter. Both of these players were taken in the top 15 (I’d expect Reinhart to do the same), were solid two-way players (like Reinhart), and saw their offensive game bloom over time (yet to be seen with Reinhart, but the potential is there). Like Myers, he is a big body who was criticized for his lack of physicality; however, like Myers, there’s potential for a lot of growth as well.
Long-term Upside: #2 D-man, 2nd PP presence, PK fixture. 7-30-37.
Pouliot, like Rielly, is a fantastic skater who makes excellent passes and rushes the puck effectively; however, there are major question marks surrounding his defensive game and he can be a liability at times. As a result, Pouliot may be a bit of a project pick and I think it will be many years before he sees any NHL action.
From the above table, we can see that he made major strides in the 2011-12 season, like Dumba. Although his point per game pace was likely inflated by playing for the stacked Winterhawks team, his adjusted point per game pace still increased significantly and he played a larger role in generating team scoring, both of which are good signs for his future development.
NHL Comparison(s): M.A. Bergeron and Brian Campbell. Both of these players and Pouliot showed tremendous offensive potential in the minors but took a long time to round out their game (ahem, still waiting on your Bergeron…).
Long-term Upside: #4 D-man, PP QB. 5-45-50.
2010-11 POINT TOTALS (Prorated and Adjusted)
1) Ryan Murray - 67 points
2) Griffin Reinhart - 40 points
3) Morgan Rielly - 31 points
4) Matt Dumba – 28 points
5) Derrick Pouliot – 26 points
2011-12 POINT TOTALS (Prorated and Adjusted)
1) Matt Dumba – 71 points
2) Morgan Rielly – 68 points
3) Ryan Murray – 64 points
4) Derrick Pouliot – 44 points
5) Griffin Reinhart – 35 points
2-YEAR AVERAGE POINT TOTALS (Prorated and Adjusted)
1) Ryan Murray – 65.5 points
2) Matt Dumba – 49.5 points and Morgan Rielly – 49.5 points
4) Griffin Reinhart – 37.5 points
5) Derrick Pouliot – 35 points
PERSONAL FANTASY RANKINGS
Rankings are hard to do as every league is different and every fantasy manger approaches drafting differently. With that being said, I’m going to break down my rankings into 2 broad categories – Long-term Upside, Likelihood to Reach Upside, Personal Multi-cat (Factoring in LTU and Likelihood), Personal Points (Factoring in LTU and Likelihood).
1) Morgan Rielly (10-45-55)
2) Derrick Pouliot (5-45-50)
3) Matt Dumba (17-33-50)
4) Ryan Murray (12-33-45)
5) Griffin Reinhart (7-30-37)
Likelihood to Reach Upside:
1) Ryan Murray
2) Griffin Reinhart
3) Morgan Rielly
4) Matt Dumba
5) Derrick Pouliot
1) Matt Dumba
2) Ryan Murray
3) Morgan Rielly
4) Griffin Reinhart
5) Derrick Pouliot
1) Murray and Rielly – take your pick. Murray is the choice if you’re looking for a quicker impact while Rielly is a no-brainer if all you care about is long-term potential (small farm teams, long-term rebuilds, etc.).
3) Matt Dumba
4) Griffin Reinhart
5) Derrick Pouliot
The point of this article was to 1) provide analysis on 2012-eligible WHL defencemen in context of their team’s stats, and 2) to provide my personal fantasy thoughts on these defencemen.
Something important to note is these rankings could change dramatically based on where these players are drafted – for example, I really like the future for whichever (if any) of these guys end up with the Islanders or the Ducks. On the other hand, I’m probably steering clear of anyone who ends up on Columbus or Toronto.
Hopefully this article achieved the goals I set out when I started writing it and maybe it even provided you with some perspective and a fresh view on 2012-eligible WHL defencemen. I apologize for the long read, I hope you enjoyed it!